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Shopping in Paris
Maria's Adventure - Part Three
After leaving the Louvre Maria was begging me to do some shopping along the Champs-Elysees, that expansive French Boulevard made famous by French cinema and wartime images of conquering armies parading into town.
The avenue was first conceived in the early 1600's as an extension of the Jarden de Tuileries - it now spans northwest from just beyond the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. It was originally an area of fields and small garden plots eventually being lined with rows of clipped Horse Chestnut trees one hundred years later. Fifty more years, in the late 1700's, the Champs-Elysees was a fashionable boulevard attracting the rich and famous of Paris including Queen Marie Antoinette who was known to practice music at the Grand Hotel de Crillon (the hotel is still there and you can walk through a ballroom named in her honor and step onto the same balcony she would have used to gaze at the Place de la Concorde in the distance - the hotel also has a darker side - it was once used as the German occupying army headquarters). In the 1800s' the boulevard became the province of the city and was subsequently widened, plumbed and lit with gas fixtures.
Maria and I walked past the 3,300 year old Obelisk given to France and King Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, in 1829 - it is covered in hieroglyphs and is shocking when you first see it as it looks so out of place. The Obelisk was originally part of the Luxor Temple and was raised to its current location in 1833 having sailed from Alexandria on board the French Naval paddle steamer Sphinx.
After we left the Obelisk we walked through the Champs-Elysee Gardens flanking the north side of the boulevard. Covered in flowers, statues and fountains it is a cool place to sit and relax before you get to the real business of shopping!
We were walking toward the Arc de Triomphe with Maria wanting to browse every establishment on the boulevard. I had to temper her enthusiasm with a small rule - 'We can't look or enter into any store that is not French, no H&M or Rue 21!' Maria looked at me for a moment and came to realize that the thought was brilliant - she would bring back clothes that no one in Virginia could duplicate.
Her first stop was a small well lit boutique called Naf Naf. Playing French pop music inside, its two floors were dedicated to new trends in fashion that Maria found intriguing. Leopard print blouses, skin tight multi colored jeans, and little strapped lacey blouses. Maria likes to look at everything two or three times before deciding what to try on - this being our first store it looked to be a long afternoon. She wound up picking a few cute blouses but the dresses were cut too tight for her figure.
We passed the Disney Store (ouch!) and proceeded to Zara where Maria walked in and was struck by the oh so fashionable little French dresses. She tried on a few and seemed smitten with a little white number when she looked at me and said, 'Dad I would really like this one but I don't want to spend more of our money.' I said, 'It's not too bad and we are here for a great experience for you.' It didn't take much convincing and we were off again with me toting the baggage.
We continued west towards the Arc de Triomphe - covered in scaffold for repairs - but impressive nonetheless. The Arc was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon I after the French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz (Napoleon crushed Russian and Austrian forces in the present day Czech Republic - this victory was the event that obliterated the Holy Roman Empire - relegating it to history). After exhausting two years just laying the foundations for the massive structure, Napoleon became impatient and was most insistent that when he entered Paris with his new Austrian bride, Archduchess Marie-Louise, the Arc had best be completed. Frantically the master tradesmen came up with a brilliant idea to save their skins by constructing a life size replica of the final design, but in wood, for the Emperor's arrival. It took another 23 years to complete the edifice - by that time France was under the rule of King Louis-Phillippe. The Arc was crowned by a sculpture representing Peace which is ironic as the Arc was conceived by Napoleon as a tribute to war.
Maria and I crossed this grand boulevard and proceeded to walk back on the opposite side - before leaving the Champs Elysee for lunch we passed the Grand Palais - an absolutely huge iron, marble, and glass Beaux-arts structure constructed in 1900 and used for grand expositions to this day. It had hosted horse shows and competitions until 1957; was home to the German occupying motor depot in the 1940's; and more recently the World Fencing Championships in 2010.
Since we were on a tight budget it was decided that we would venture off the boulevard to grab lunch. Lunch is cheaper than dinner and you are able to sample what is basically the same foods but in slightly smaller portions. We walked through quaint neighborhoods before crossing the Seine at the Pont Alexander III and into the Invalides district before stumbling upon an inexpensive bistro near the Eiffel Tower called L'Auberge du Champ de Mars. Located on the rue de l'Exposition, it was cozy and I knew I would get something other than a Pain du Chocolat into Maria. Maria had the French Onion soup as an appetizer and a beautiful plate of browned scallops. I had the Avocado and Salmon salad followed by the Monkfish. Each course was light, expertly seasoned and very reasonable.
Best Fun Facts
- The Viceroy of Egypt had originally given two obelisks to France - the second was marooned in Alexandria due to transport issues and politics - until the 1990's when French President Mitterrand relinquished all claims - returning ownership to Egypt
- The Obelisk was originally located at the Temple of Ramses II in Thebes and weighs 200 tons.
- King Louis Philippe who succeeded King Charles X presented Mehemet Ali a large clock as a gift in return for the Obelisk - this clock can still be viewed atop the Citadel of Cairo
- France's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is laid to rest under the Arc de Triomphe - he was a WWI casualty originally to be placed at the Pantheon - popular French opinion had him moved to the Arc
Naf Naf French Website
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